Voices is a Q&A section for students from underrepresented backgrounds to discuss their experiences at the University of Kansas.
Antonette Gichohu is a senior studying computer science at the University of Kansas. She is one of the few Black women studying this field in the School of Engineering.
I came to KU because it was close to home and it seemed to be the best option for what I wanted to do.
As a Black woman on a really white campus and in an even whiter major, it’s definitely weird. I would love to go to all the National Society of Black Engineers meetings, or like literally anything, but I don’t know how to make that intro. That’s been really strange.
If I literally make any mistake, look dumb, or show I don’t understand what’s going on, it reflects on all Black women, because I’m the only Black woman a lot of my peers see right now. It’s often a lot of pressure. Whenever someone disrespects me or dismisses me, I can never be like, “Oh, is that because I’m a Black woman or because you’re an ass?” It’s just things like that. I’m sure everyone is going through it.
I competed for the Self program, which is engineering’s equivalent of a fellowship. It’s kind of prestigious. I remember I was competing against my [white] friend who was considered a “shoe-in.” I got an interview and he didn’t. I told him I was sorry, because I didn’t really know what else to say. He told another friend he thought I took his spot in the interviews. It was one of my first experiences where it was not people thinking I was stupid. It was that, despite the fact that I’ve proven myself, people thought I just got it because I was Black and I was being tokenized. That was my first realization that no matter what I do, I’m going to be fought against. I think the only thing they want me to be is stupid, so it fits into whatever they think of me already.
I love clubs like Women in STEM. Every time I have felt understood, it’s been by another woman in computer science.
I was in this class that I hated and I felt so stupid. I was talking to this girl who always seemed to be doing really well since she was always answering questions in class. She seemed like the person who had it together. I asked her how she felt about it, and she told me she freaking hated it. She said, “I don’t understand what’s going on. I think [the professor] goes too fast.” Literally three weeks of frustration I had built up went away because I talked to one woman. I talked to, like, eight million dudes and they always said, “Oh I finished that assignment in like an hour,” which I never got.
Sometimes people tend to over explain to me whenever I ask a question about an assignment. When I was in Calculus III my freshman year, that was one of the biggest problems I had. I asked my friend Rama a question I had, and she said exactly what needed to be said. It took five minutes. Women just get each other.
I sit in some of my classes and think about how I couldn’t professionally work in an environment like this. The other day in class someone crossed their arms in an X-formation across their chest during class. I said, “Wakanda forever,” and they didn’t get it.
I really like computer science, but it’s so marketed for the stereotypical “awkward white man” like you see in movies. I think I’m going to find a Black-owned company to work for in the future.
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